Honda CBF600SA

Story by Glenn Roberts// Photos by Glenn Roberts
December 1 2010

Honda’s entry-level CBR125R is one of the best-selling motorcycles on the Canadian market, outselling almost every other bike over the last couple of years. But the fact is that because of its size, the little CBR125R can be quickly outgrown. This is where the “standard-style” CBF600SA steps up to the plate. Honda’s CBF600SA is, at this point, the next logical step up from the 125 in the Honda line-up.

While the 600 is a noticeably larger motorcycle, there are a few similarities that make the transition from a smaller bike an easy one. First and foremost is the seat height. Being comfortable and able to stop with both feet flat on the ground is a very important factor for those who are still gaining experience. The CBF’s perch offers a three-position adjustable seat, the lowest position being 770 mm (30.3 in.) and the highest at 800 mm (31.5 in.). The 125 has a seat height in the middle of that range at 780 mm (30.7 in.).

Both bikes use 17-inch tires front and back, but the 600 has considerably wider rubber (front-120/70-17, rear-160/60-17) and along with a total wet weight of 222 kg (489 lb.), which is 95 kg (209 lb.) heavier than the 125, this makes the 600 feel much more planted on rough roads and in crosswinds. Any new rider on a small bike who has experienced a strong crosswind and the feeling that they have been lifted up and moved over a couple feet will appreciate the added weight of the 600.

So far I have been pushing the virtues of the CBF600SA as a step-up, entry-level bike, but this is not strictly a beginner-level motorcycle. It does offer plenty of power and enough fun-factor to keep the experienced enthusiast entertained, but in a user-friendly, non-intimidating manner.

My test bike was outfitted with accessory panniers and a top box, everything needed for a full-on tour. The proving ground was the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. This is an excellent piece of road to determine handling through the many twisty parts, and to check out the suspension too, as there are bits of the Trail in dire need of rebuilding (which, by the way, is slowly happening in stages).

The engine is the same powerplant from the long-proven, race-winning CBR600RR, although re-tuned for a comfortable balance of performance and ease of use. The 599 cc, liquid-cooled, 4-stroke DOHC with 4 valves in each of its 4 fuel-injected cylinders produces a very respectable 76.4 horsepower at 10,500 rpm and 43.5 ft-lb of torque at 8250 rpm. The engine was quiet and smooth at all times, but at 100 km/h in top gear the engine seemed quite busy at 4600 rpm. Throttle was responsive and acceleration quick but not intimidating, keeping in mind that you are only as quick as your right hand allows you to be. The exhaust is a little throaty, and the catalytic converter ensures that it is Euro-III compliant.

The 6-speed transmission shifted flawlessly with only minimal effort for quick shifts. The non-adjustable clutch lever is cable-operated and light to use with an easy-to-manage friction point. Final drive is via O-ring sealed chain.

I lost my fuel receipt with my exact distance written on it, making it impossible to give an accurate account of my mileage, but my notes say I went around 240 km at a half tank. The CBF600SA has a 20-litre tank, so providing that my notes and the fuel gauge are accurate, you can expect to get around 4.17 L/100 km (68 mpg), which is in the ballpark for that size of engine. Based on my calculations a full tank should safely take you into the 400 km range or higher.

The 41 mm front fork and the single rear shock, both of which have adjustable preload, worked admirably on the rough and winding road, and combined with firmly planted Bridgestone Battlax tires, made it easy to hold a line through the corners. Suspension travel is 120 mm (4.7 in.) up front and 125 mm (4.9 in.) out back, and even as rough as some of the less-travelled roads were, the bike never bottomed out.

Of course, coming into some of the tight corners hot and heavy requires the ability to slow down quickly. The rear brake uses a single 240 mm disc with a single-piston caliper, while 3-piston Nissin calipers squeeze the dual front 296 mm floating rotors. Just a light squeeze on the 6-position adjustable brake lever is all that’s needed to slow the bike down quickly with good feel. The CBF600SA comes standard with Honda’s Combined Braking System and advanced ABS, both of which provided peace of mind when braking hard on slippery surfaces or bumpy tarmac.

The CBF600SA has adequate upper-body wind protection from the half-fairing, and my demo bike also had an accessory fairing-mounted hand deflector kit to help divert a cold wind from directly hitting the backs of my hands. While I didn’t need them, heated grips were also installed on the demo model. The two-position windscreen is adjustable with tools, and considering the aforementioned adjustable seat, the bike can be fine-tuned to provide a comfortable balance between seating position and wind protection. I did find my butt a little on the tender side after running through about half a tank of fuel, but the seat is large enough to allow some wiggle room. The overall seating position should provide all-day comfort (the seat notwithstanding) with feet below the hips and hands gently out in front. The fairing-mounted mirrors provide an excellent, vibration-free view behind.

The accessory 33-litre, clamshell-type side cases and the 35-litre top box provided plenty of room for a multi-day outing. Unfortunately, the side cases and the top box required their own keys, and adding in the ignition key made for three keys to deal with. It’s not a big deal, but a single key just makes life easier on the road.

The easy-to-use panniers worked single-handedly – both opening them and removing them from the bike – but the top box proved to be difficult to close at times. It, too, removes from the bike, so when you get to your destination you can strip the bike down to shave a few pounds off the total weight. There is also additional limited storage under the seat.

All in all, I had a riot tossing the bike into the corners on the Cabot Trail. It was sure-footed on the twisty bits and soaked up the bumps in the rough stuff. Acceleration was swift out of the corners, and cruising on the highway was effortless and steady.

With standard equipment like Honda’s Combined Braking System and its advanced ABS, along with a proven driveline, the base price of $9,899 is quite a bargain, provided you want the bike in basic black (the only colour available). Adding the side and top cases, wind deflectors and heated grips, runs the price up to $12,132, plus tax of course, but still reasonably priced considering that the storage space is remarkably adequate to allow you to take this bike right across the country.


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